Exodus 1:11

ESV Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses.
NIV So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.
NASB So they appointed taskmasters over them to oppress them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses.
CSB So the Egyptians assigned taskmasters over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor. They built Pithom and Rameses as supply cities for Pharaoh.
NLT So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king.
KJV Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.

What does Exodus 1:11 mean?

The first part of this verse notes the presence of taskmasters who managed the slave work of the Israelites. These men served to manage slave labor under Pharaoh's command. They afflicted them or oppressed them "with heavy burdens." This general phrase could refer to hard labor of any kind. However, the context is clear this work focused on building Pithom and Raamses. The Hebrew grammar used here is helpful, using a preterite with the vav consecutive in this sentence. This focuses on the idea that the building of these cities was "the result of" this decision by Pharaoh.

Because of the name Raamses, many have assumed the Pharaoh Raamses II was the leader of Egypt during Moses' time. However, that figure ruled far later than the chronology of the life of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. This city existed by this name before the rule of Raamses or was perhaps used later to refer to an earlier city.

This part of the book of Exodus is crucial in understanding the Bible's view of slavery. The terms "slave" and "slavery" are used to mean a wide variety of things in Scripture. Here, under the harsh treatment of Egypt, Israel experiences the same kind of "slavery" which modern readers assume when encountering that term. This is forced, brutal, race-based, permanent, possessive slavery. The term often used for this practice is "chattel slavery," where the subjects are treated as sub-human and lacking in any rights. God's view of this practice will be made clear in His fierce judgment of Egypt, shown later in this same story.
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